Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Acts 14 – Building through tribulation

Acts 14

[God builds his kingdom by moving his people.

As Paul and Barnabas traveled from city to city they would always start at the synagogues where they found crowds of Jews and God fearing gentiles, and there they would preach to them Jesus. Though many believed those who refused quickly made themselves an obstacle to the gospel. Elymas the sorcerer was struck blind for opposing the gospel. Jews in Antioch of Pisidia were given a short time to repent in Acts 13:
46 "Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles."

So great was the opposition in Antioch of Pisidia that when the apostles left "they shook off the dust from their feet against them", the meaning of gesture this is from the words of Jesus:

Matthew 10:14 And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!

Yet in the middle of all that conflict Jesus' disciples "were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit". They kept moving forward taking each opportunity they were given to offer salvation to those who would listen.]

At Iconium

 1 Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. 3 Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

[To the Jews they could effectively argue that Jesus was Messiah using the prophecies, but frequently they would also add supernatural signs like healing that would draw the attention of Jews and gentiles. Their effectiveness is obvious in "a great multitude … believed". Notice that even that even though they said "we turn to the gentiles" in chapter 13, they still preached to Jews wherever they found them. So I take from this that they had intentionally preached in cities with large Jewish populations, but now this would no longer be their focus. Now they would go where they had an open door.]

4 But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. 5 And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region. 7 And they were preaching the gospel there.

[They stayed in Iconium contending for the gospel through opposition. But when opposition turned into a murder conspiracy it was time to leave.]

Idolatry at Lystra

8 And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother's womb, who had never walked. 9
This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 said with a loud voice, "Stand up straight on your feet!" And he leaped and walked. 11 Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!"

[In Lystra there is no significant population of Jews where they can preach, so they go to the streets and heal a man crippled from birth. As we saw frequently with Jesus the healing was according to or possible because of the faith of the believer. The Greeks there are clearly impressed with the supernatural healing, so impressed that they see Paul and Barnabas as gods in human form.]


12 And Barnabas they called Zeus (Jupiter), and Paul, Hermes (Mercury), because he was the chief speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.

[Clearly our missionaries were not expecting this. Pagan priest come out of the temple of Zeus and attempt to sacrifice and worship men instead of God.]

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out 15 and saying, "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, 16 who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." 18 And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.

[So they do all they can to stop the idolatry and persuade them to change from their polytheism, to the living God by faith in Jesus. In Greek mythology there was a story of Zeus and Hermes visiting this region in disguise. In the myth they visit a thousand houses before they find one poor old couple who would welcome them into their home. The gods respond by turning the old couples home into a beautiful temple, then destroying the thousand who would not receive them. This story probably contributed to the enthusiasm of the people and the difficulty of Jesus' disciples.]

Stoning, Escape to Derbe

19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.

[Their failure to win converts in the face of this idolatry was compounded when trouble follows them in unbelieving Jews from Antioch and Iconium who find Paul and Barnabas in Lystra. I can only imagine what lies they told to the people of Lystra but they reactivate their murder plot using the Greeks against Paul. They stone Paul then drag his lifeless body out of the city and leave him with trash outside of town. There are some who think Paul did die and was resurrected, while other just see him as severely injured. Either way having been stoned, he would have a fractured skill and several broken bones with internal injuries. The other disciples, Barnabas and the converts in that city, gather around him probably praying for him, and he miraculously gets up, recovered from his wounds, and walks back into Lystra, where they had just stoned him, not leaving for Derbe until the following day.]

Strengthening the Converts

21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."

[So they preach in Derbe, making more disciples. Then they go back to all the places they had converts, where they at been chased, threatened, and stoned. They go back because those new converts needed to be encouraged, taught and discipled. I can think of no greater proof that they loved Jesus more than life itself. When Paul later tells the Philippians: "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Those are not idle words; he proved that is true by the way he ministered. One of the things they taught these new disciples is that we serve God in enemy territory, most of the people you meet are enemies of God, but Jesus died for his enemies, and because of that we enter God's kingdom through "many tribulations".]

23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.

[Again they visit each place where people had turned to Jesus, and they establish churches with elders to guide them, before returning home to Antioch in Syria.]
27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had
opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

[They go to their commissioning church and report all that they had seen and what great things God had done. We don't have all the details of their report, but you can tell it included the opposition of the unbelieving Jews, and the faith of the gentiles.

God builds his kingdom by moving his people, even through tribulation.]

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